A York County legislator's proposal to bar non-compliant sex offenders from receiving welfare assistance could be just the first step in his mission to reform a system he said is flawed and manipulated by opportunists. Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, last week introduced a bill prohibiting the state from paying welfare benefits to Megan's Law violators who fail to meet their registry requirements. House Bill 1951 would require full compliance for convicted offenders to receive welfare, and Regan said he believes it will motivate offenders to stay in compliance.
A former U.S. marshal, Regan said he encountered "an alarmingly high" number of Megan's Law violators who continued to receive benefits while out of court-ordered compliance.
He also participated in drug busts during which dealers were arrested with "wads of cash and food stamps," he said.
"There are people who really need a helping hand and should get it ... but there are people who abuse it," said Regan, vowing to spend the first couple of months of 2014 introducing additional bills to reform welfare and target spending that's "wasted" on purchases that aren't in keeping with welfare's intended family-supporting uses.
Among his potential future efforts is a bill to make sure welfare recipients can't use benefits to pay for things such as tattoos, an effort he attributed to findings released by former Auditor General Jack Wagner. But he said such a measure could be made more difficult because cash can be withdrawn from their state-issued debit cards, making it impossible to track where the money is being spent.
Cash assistance: Welfare recipients who receive cash assistance can withdraw their cash, but the state has enacted provisions to prohibit the use of welfare-issued cards in some locations, said Kait Gillis, deputy director of communications at the state Department of Public Welfare.
In 2009, a measure went into effect to prohibit the purchase of liquor or alcohol with the state-issued cards, with violations subject to a misdemeanor charge, a $100 fine or six months in jail, Gillis said.
In 2010, the state Gaming Commission asked third-party processors to voluntarily block the use of the cards at their casino cash machines, she said.
And the benefits applications contain language warning applicants that the use of temporary assistance funds is prohibited in liquor stores, casinos, and adult entertainment venues, she said.
Hands tied: Seth Grove R-Dover Township said he's in favor of the state police cross-referencing their data with the Department of Welfare to prevent payments to non-compliant Megan's Law offenders, but federal law limits how much other reform can be done.
Much of the state's welfare money is passed from the federal government to the state for distribution, and federal law prevents the state from barring cash withdrawals, Grove said. The spirit of the federal law is to help people who, for example, can't pay their rent in anything but cash, he said.
But the truth is that some people pull their money out of cash machines to buy cigarettes, alcohol, and other things that don't fit the intended use of the money, he said.
"It's taxpayers' money ... and to think somebody is out there abusing it like that is morally and ethically incorrect, especially since it's supposed to be used to support your family," he said.
Grove said it's frustrating because he has also heard of people scheming the system, and it's sad that they don't use their "great entrepreneurial spirit" to do something good for society.
Gaining support: Regan said he's still researching how to address all of his concerns, such as the use of state welfare funds at tattoo parlors, but the Megan's Law provision is a "common sense" start to ensuring money is spent properly and children are protected.
Two local legislators, Reps. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor, and Will Tallman, R-York and Adams counties, have co-sponsored HB 1951.
A couple of others said the concept behind the legislation is solid, but they're still considering it.
Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus said the bill "sounds logical to me."
"It's a little bit like taking driver's licenses away for certain things, to make them come into compliance with the law," he said. "But this is even better because it costs us money."
Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said the bill sounds like something he would support, but he wants to review the verbiage.
"Whenever we're dealing with someone not in compliance of the law, we have a responsibility to ensure that they become compliant," he said. "It certainly sounds like a very good law."
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.